Irish helicopter ownership hits record heights


The number of helicopters registered in Ireland has increased by 101% in the last five years, it emerged today.

Property developers are using helicopters to get a bird-eye view of sites while other wealthy owners are using them to avoid traffic.

It's the resurrection of the Celtic Tiger.
Irish Helicopters commercial director Fred Balcomb

According to new figures from the Irish Aviation Authority, the number of helicopters registered has risen from 56 in 2000 to 113 now.

The most high-profile helicopter owners are businessmen like Ben Dunne, Michael Smurfit and Larry Goodman. But there are recent additions to the aviation register such as Citywest hotel owner Jim Mansfield and Cork property developer Seamus Geaney.

The Irish Helicopters company said the growth in the sector had been phenomenal. "It's the resurrection of the Celtic Tiger. A very high percentage of these owners would be businessman," said commercial director Fred Balcomb.

The cost of helicopters ranges from €90,000 for a second hand model to €2.5 million for the latest Bell Augusta models.

"There's not only the initial purchase price but all the maintenance, insurance and piloting as well," he said.

Many businessmen are using the helicopters to avoid rush-hour traffic and have built heli-pads in their backgardens to land their aircraft.

Last week, there were up to 300 landings per day at the Galway Races.

Mr Balcomb said there was a waiting list to buy one popular model, the Bell 407 helicopter, which costs over €1 million - second hand - and is known as the sports car in the air. "There's more 407s in Ireland than in England. I think that in terms of helicopters per head of population, we have exceeded them."

He said that most owners used a small pool of freelance pilots to ferry them around rather than learning to fly themselves.

The risks involved in flying were starkly demonstrated in Derrybrien, Co Galway earlier this month. Two men died and a third was serious injured when their helicopter crashed while returning from the Tall Ships Festival in Waterford.